Thursday, October 30, 2008

The Ten Year Time Warp

(This is a guest post from one of the hosts of Riff Raff Theater, Chris Hanel.)

Sean graciously handed me the keys to this little corner of the internet and I wanted to take the opportunity to say hello before raising the curtain on our big show tomorrow night, probably the most important one we've done so far in the year-long run we've enjoyed having at the Englert.

In case you haven't seen one of our million posters sprinkled around downtown Iowa City, we'll be bringing the Rocky Horror Picture Show back to the Englert tomorrow night at midnight, and thus closing the circle on a long and circuitous journey that has lasted a decade. It was in the fall of 1998 that I was dragged to see Rocky at the Englert by a friend and his parents, who, luckily for me, didn't bother to check with mine for permission. Girlfriend in tow, the initial shock and terror of what was transpiring around me melted away into a dumbfounded joy that was opened up to a whole new idea of what a night at the movies could be like.

Forever altered (or traumitized, if you like), that initial joy has spawned and mutated over time into Riff Raff Theater, and it is with a childlike glee that we are fortunate enough to host The Rocky Horror Picture Show, exactly ten years after it served as the birthplace of my own demented passions.

If you're coming tomorrow night, and especially if you've never been a part of such a show before, we hope you leave the theater with the same excitement that we all have upon our first experience of Rocky Horror. I look forward to the show with an extreme amount of antici--



Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Night School

Writing grants and other funding requests is a lot like writing papers for school.

Which may explain why, for the third night in a row, sitting at Panera with the laptop and the truly genius-like Genius feature on in iTunes, command-tabbing back and forth between two such projects, I feel like I'm back in school.

Except technology and my laptop are waaaaaay better now, making it all a little more pleasant.

Writing like this forces me to clarify my thinking. To drill down into the details. To articulate assumptions and support arguments. To make decisions.

It's cliche, but it's true: if you want to get something done or commit to something, write it down. Until you do that, no matter how good a handle you think you have on something, it's still amorphous.

Amorphous isn't a bad thing - but it's clarity and details that ultimately take your good idea/argument/habit/whatever a big step closer to reality.

And now I sound like I'm teaching in school...

Point is: it's been a long two weeks, there are still a few days left to go, it's all coming down to the last minute, the stakes are high, and I should be feeling the pain. But I don't (yet). It's been valuable for me personally and for the Englert to STOP: take the time - even if it's at night in a coffee shop - to prioritize, pull thoughts out of the air and articulate a clear vision for who we are, what we want to accomplish, how we're going to do it, and why it's deserving of financial support.

That was a run-on sentence that would get dressed up by red ink if I actually was in school.

Back at it. Coffee #3.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Yes, those are trees.

Just got back from tonight's Jason Reeves and Tyrone Wells show. Sounded and looked amazing. Chris asked me after the show if there were ever any concerts at the theater that made me want to go home and write music. Happens quite a bit, I said. Ben Schmidt. Andrew Bird. Randy Newman.

There are other events where I consciously force myself to just... stop. Look around. Take it all in. Experience what is going on around me. How privileged I am to do what I do, to be part of what I'm a part of. Someday, when I've moved on in my life, I don't want to look back thinking I took this all for granted. I want to look back knowing I took the time to appreciate it while it was all happening. California Guitar Trio. New Orleans Jazz Orchestra. Railroad Earth.

There are other events that give me a boost: pull me out of a rut, give me inspiration, make me think of our business in a different way - or in a way that had been buried by the day-to-day grind.

Tonight was one of those.

I've been battling a bad cold all week, trying to write a big grant, trying to manage the day-to-day, trying to think about the big funding request I have to write after I finish the grant, trying to think about the budget I have to put together after that (and all of this by the end of next week). Plus life outside of work. All in all, I was feeling pretty beat down this week. My writing was crap, my thoughts scattered, my energy abysmal.

Tonight, during Jason's set, I got more done with that grant than I got done all week. And while I'm sorry I missed seeing most of the show (although I did hear it), I think the energy at the theater tonight may have been just what I needed to set things back on track.

I also talked to two of the nicest guys I've met in a long time: Tyrone Wells, and Billy the Drummer. I talked to Tyrone backstage after his great performance opening for Jason. Evidently they trade off nights as headliner, depending on who has the bigger draw in that particular city. This being Jason's hometown, Tyrone took the stage first with his juicy pop anthems. He was super cool, laid back, humble, and good to talk to.

Billy the Drummer (Jason's drummer) was also the tour manager, so I got to settle the show with him. Probably the nicest guy I've ever settled with: talked about the tour, about Schuba's in Chicago (a mirror image of the Beat Kitchen), Kings of Leon (the power of those three words), Rogue Wave (great live band) and shenanigans with comp tickets in Boston (9+1 still equals 10, no matter who holds the 9).

So here are a few pictures from the night, below, along with a link to some more. If you're a fan of pop, acoustic singer-songwriter stuff, and big soaring melodies, I'd definitely recommend checking out both Jason Reeves and Tyrone Wells. I hope they'll be back soon, and I hope (as does Billy) that there will be a busting-at-the-seams sized audience that needs those "seven extra letters" on the marquee.

Tyrone Wells & band

Jason Reeves emerges from the dressing rooms.

Jason's setlist and bottle of water.

Drummers get all the chicks.
Billy with some of Jason's family.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008


I've always said that the loudest sound inside our theater is not a rock concert, not a hip hop show, not a sound effect of clapping thunder, or the thunderous applause after a stirring performance...

It's the sound of 700+ kids screaming at once during our school shows.

These are a little late getting up here, but last Friday we hosted nearly 800 kids for a daytime performance of Schoolhouse Rock. This little unedited video clip doesn't really do it justice, but let me tell you, my ears were ringing:

Check out a handful of pictures from that show, too.

Monday, October 20, 2008

I Ran

It was a few minutes into the third quarter last Saturday afternoon when I felt the faint buzz of my phone ringing in my pocket.

Eleven rows up on the 30 yard line, in the middle of a lively Hawkeyes/Badgers game, is not the best place to field a phone call. I pulled the phone out of my pocket and the caller ID said "Englert."


I always say (and mean) that anyone at work can call me anytime. Plus, this was a show day (matinee of Schoolhouse Rock), and I knew that that whoever was calling wouldn't be doing it unless they really needed to.

I answered and tried to hear Sarah, my head bent over between my knees (while the people all around me were standing, screaming, jingling keys, spilling food). I finally had to get up and squeeze past the others in the row to get outside the stadium so I could hear.

Technical problems. The kind you can't troubleshoot over the phone. The kind that won't let the box officers sell tickets to the afternoon's show. The kind that need immediate fixing.


I had no choice but to leave the game. Looking around for a cab, unless there was one sitting right there I knew I didn't have time to wait. It was after 1:00, and the show started at 2:00. Must sell tickets. Must fix problem.

So I ran. I think it was probably a mile, maybe less. Seems farther when I think about it, but judging by the time it took to get there in a sporadic run-walk-run-walk pattern (between 10 and 15 minutes), it was probably a mile.

Great day for a run, actually. Sunny. Cool. I hardly broke a sweat, dressed in a be-bold-wear-gold long-sleeved Hawkeye T-shirt and baseball hat, running down the spiral walk(run)way at the end of the Burlington bridge, jetting across the UI library grass... walking up the steeeeeeeeeep Washington Street hill.

I've never had to literally run to work before. But in this case, I didn't really have a choice. And I was glad I was actually within running distance and not out of town. I got there. I fixed the problem. I stayed to help sell tickets. I got text updates about our stomping of Wisconsin.

I broke the box office dress code. Shhhh.